Friday, December 8, 2017

DON HAWKES ON HIS OWN TERMS


ONE OF THE GREAT UNPUBLISHED CARTOONISTS

Don Hawkes stood out from the knots of young strangers gathered for the first time 62 years ago outside a barracks structure called the Graphic Arts Building in a battered complex titled the Ryerson Institute of Technology.
Hawkes looked and sounded like a seasoned reporter from Fleet Street who vacationed in Paree. I was stunned months later to find this Brit among the budding journalists was actually a guy from Parkdale with better tweeds than me.
 I would have never anticipated then that he would bob in and out of my life for six decades, that I would hire him twice and be filled many times that with bouts of friendship and frustration as he marched determinedly to his own drummer.
We talked in our last call about when it all began that September morning. And that chat could have lasted an eternity as both of us were in happy anecdotage when all the slings and arrows could no longer sting and the politics of life that bothered him more than me had receded to tiny importance.
The curious gamesmanship of upper management, whether he was at Ryerson or the CBC or the Suns, bugged him so much that he was a determined non-player and it was up to me, armoured from my years of describing the antics of elected politicians, to be his guide and some times his protector.
It could be stormy when the executive floor was making silly demands, as Hawkes didn't always support my in-fighting. He confessed in print when I retired that he often felt like killing me.
I replied on John Cosway's Toronto Sun family blog that I had felt the same about him.
Doug Creighton, the founder of the Suns and its soul, called us the Bookends because both of us were bearded and burly. But the Bookends did produce some great editorials. Only insiders knew that some began with Hawkes with his special feel of words producing 6.5 inches of reasonable comment and then shouting next door to me to stir in some venom and vitriol.
Hawkes was a gentle warrior surrounded by semantic battle-axes. He was just too nice to slit throats.
My heavens he could be subtle in his opposition. I was waiting to see a surgeon when the nurse complained about the Sun not using the u in words like humour. I said it was general Canadian newspaper "style" (which has now changed.)
I asked Hawkes to write a column because I thought readers would be interested to find that it all began when type was set by hand and it saved time to skip letters. Hawkes produced a meaty commentary, but then, typically, said in the last sentence that he didn't agree with dropping the u, that it was stupid.
I found out by reading the paper that my associate editor had just fired another broadside into his ample friend who quite approved of dropkicking the u out of our language.
Hawkes left me to run the comment of the Ottawa Sun but then yearned to return to his hometown.
Except the brass balked. Finally I figured out that he should write directly to Creighton and appeal to him as the paterfamilias of the chain. He pleaded for help with the letter, which I then wrote. I thought it would appeal more to Creighton if he took a shot at Paul Godfrey in it, and for good measure, me too, as people blocking his return.
The letter didn't go well. I accidentally sent a draft via the chain's computer system to the Edmonton Sun and then begged the  editors there to destroy it without reading it. (Fat chance!) When Creighton got the letter, he decided to show it to Godfrey, who was quite annoyed and complained to me about what my school friend had said. I then confessed that I had actually written the attack on him and me as a device to encourage Creighton to come to Hawkes' aid.
It worked, although Creighton and Godfrey didn't invite me to any events for a few weeks. Hawkes returned, although he at first was forbidden to work for me.
It was such games that bugged Hawkes almost as much as the shenanigans at City Hall or the Legislature. He was a fine writer but his greater talent as a clever cartoonist was stifled by office politics so that they were viewed mainly by a network of friends. (Several originals grace the wall behind this keyboard.)
So now we say farewell to another renaissance stalwart of Canadian journalism - a writer, educator, artist and friend, a lover of cigars, dining and life. I recall a lunch at the elite restaurant at the King Eddy where I let him order the port afterwards because it had been a rough time in the opinion world. And that is why I know what a $35 glass of Taylor Fladgate tastes like.
Ah yes, you never were too sure what was going to happen next with Don Hawkes. A grand 83 years for the happy wordsmith from Parkdale,






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